Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Johannesburg's crime hotspot transformed to hipster hangout

From Robyn Curnow and Oliver Joy, CNN
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 4, 2013
Rising crime in the 1990s saw Johannesburg succumb to urban decay. But in recent years, South Africa's largest city has been undergoing a rebirth. Rising crime in the 1990s saw Johannesburg succumb to urban decay. But in recent years, South Africa's largest city has been undergoing a rebirth.
HIDE CAPTION
Johannesburg's makeover
Maboneng Precinct
Maboneng Precinct
Maboneng Precinct
Soweto Theater
Johannesburg's makeover
Ponte City
Ponte City
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Downtown Johannesburg is getting a makeover
  • Maboneng Precinct is an urban regeneration project in central business district
  • Once neglected Ponte City tower houses new apartments

Johannesburg, South Africa (CNN) -- In downtown Johannesburg -- once a no-go zone riddled with crime -- a young entrepreneur is sparking an urban restoration.

Property developer Jonathan Liebmann is busy rejuvenating the South African city's industrial heart after years of urban decay, with his Maboneng Precinct, on the east side of Johannesburg's central business district.

Maboneng -- meaning "place of light" in Sotho -- is now a mixed-zone neighborhood, full of shops, restaurants and residences, which comes alive at the weekend. And it could follow in the footsteps of London's trendy East End and the shabby-chic streets of Williamsburg in New York as Johannesburg's young middle class flood to the district.

Read more: Africa's tech cities and mega dams

Liebmann said: "The area has really transformed from being a rundown industrial area into being a new living and workspace for people looking for something alternative."

Liebmann and his team own 35 properties in the area and have developed 10 of those buildings since 2008.

"It's paid off financially, but it will pay off more in the medium to long term," he added.

The Maboneng Precinct's first project, called "Arts on Main" is a creative hub boasting an in-house restaurant, rooftop bar and an exhibition space as well as a studio for some of South Africa's most respected artists.

Read more: Fast-food giants target Africa

Redefining 'Johannesburg'
A tour of Constitution Hill
Johannesburg's budding nightlife
Iconic building shakes off dark past

Prices for an apartment in Maboneng range anywhere from 280,000 rand ($28,500) to 3 million rand ($305,000), and Liebmann said that since he started buying up properties in Johannesburg, prices have sky-rocketed.

"Initially buildings were being bought for 100 euros a square meter," he said. "I think prices have tripled, but that still makes it very competitive when you compare it to the suburbs. There are still very good deals to be enjoyed."

But for seemingly low prices by Western standards, Maboneng still remains an aspirational area for many of the city's 3.8 million inhabitants.

Despite South Africa being the continent's largest economy, 23% of the population is below the poverty line.

Liebmann said that Maboneng's continued development will have a positive impact on Johannesburg, known as the "City of Gold," as other similar projects spring up around the city.

"There's always a knock-on effect," he said, "it's all coming together now in total regeneration."

Another company investing in Johannesburg real estate is Kempston Group. Originally a trucking company, today Kempston Group owns 100 commercial, industrial and farming properties around South Africa.

Read more: Liberia: From warzone to holiday paradise?

And the firm is now taking on a mammoth project to transform the notorious Ponte City skyscraper in the heart of Johannesburg.

When it was built in the 1970s, Ponte City was a desirable place to live. But having loomed over the city for nearly four decades, it became a symbol of the urban decay as the abandoned building fell victim to crime, drugs and prostitution toward the end of the last century.

When it was taken over in 2001, after years of neglect, five stories of discarded trash had to be removed as the building's rejuvenation took place.

Kempston Group founder Tony Cotterell, who is overseeing the renovation, explained: "We bought in large conveyer belts with earth-moving equipment and we started moving it out."

The group has invested tens of millions of dollars into the project and has already finished renovating the residential floors. Cotterell says all of the 500 apartments currently in Ponte are occupied.

"What we're creating is an environment where people can feel safe," said Cotterell. "It's a big change from where it was 15 years ago. I think the whole of Johannesburg is starting to change as well."

CNN's Oliver Joy contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Marketplace Africa
updated 7:14 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
In Uganda, a group of landmine victims are using banana fiber to create rope, profit and community.
updated 9:37 AM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
What does it mean to be Nigerian? That's the question on the lips of many in Nigeria as new national identity cards are being rolled out.
updated 7:05 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
 General view of an oil offshore platform owned by Total Fina Elf in the surroundings waters of the Angolan coast 15 October 2003. The 11 members of the OPEC oil cartel have agreed to slash output by a million barrels a day, the OPEC president said 11 October 2006, in a move aimed at shoring up sliding world crude prices.
Six of the top 10 global oil and gas discoveries last year were made in Africa -- but can these finds transform the continent?
updated 6:21 AM EST, Thu February 20, 2014
A South African app allows buyers to pay for goods using their phone, without having to worry about carrying cash or credit cards.
updated 10:23 AM EST, Wed February 19, 2014
A Zambian computer tablet -- known as the ZEduPad -- is trying to open up the country's information highway.
updated 5:57 AM EST, Thu January 9, 2014
South Africa may be the dominant force in Africa's wine economy, but other countries are making inroads in the industry.
updated 6:55 AM EST, Mon January 6, 2014
Commuters aboard an overloaded passenger train 03 February 2004, celebrate after arrival at the train station in the centre of the capital Nairobi.
A $5 billion Chinese-funded railway project in Kenya could transform transport in east Africa.
updated 7:27 PM EST, Thu December 12, 2013
African astronomers want world-class observatories to inspire young scientists and build a tech economy.
updated 5:29 AM EST, Wed November 27, 2013
A new report praises South Africa's economic transformation since apartheid. But enormous challenges remain.
updated 12:18 PM EST, Fri November 22, 2013
zword app zombies
From zombie spelling games to walking snails, Africa's mobile gaming industry is taking off across the continent from Uganda to South Africa.
updated 6:46 AM EST, Fri November 8, 2013
Ethiopia is turning to renewable energy technology as the East African country looks to become a powerhouse for its regional partners.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 4, 2013
Downtown Johannesburg -- once a no-go zone riddled with crime -- is undergoing urban restoration.
updated 10:12 AM EDT, Wed October 16, 2013
Using helicopters and night-vision, crime syndicates are taking rhino poaching to a new level and conservation parks are struggling to keep up.
updated 5:27 AM EDT, Thu October 10, 2013
Eko Atlantic city design concept
A lack of infrastructure has hindered Africa's development, but a series of megaprojects could change that.
Each week Marketplace Africa covers the continent's macro trends and interviews a major player from the region's business community.
ADVERTISEMENT